Health Care

How Childhood Trauma Contributes to Skyrocketing Suicide Rates

Childhood trauma can cut so deep that the brain is rewired to view the world as hopeless, forever repeating nightmares of the past.

I live with someone who is 24 times more likely than the average person to attempt suicide.

My husband is the survivor of extreme childhood trauma — and has lived through years of harrowing neglect and abuse, even bearing witness to his own mother’s multiple attempts to end her life. His heartbreaking upbringing makes him far more susceptible to repeating her patterns. Millions of children and adults suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will follow suit. He survived ten of eleven Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Since Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides last week, the public has become aware that suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, 45,000 people lost their lives to suicide in 2016 alone.

Unlike these two celebrities and the thousands of others, my husband has not succumbed completely to the mental demons. Very much like them, he has seen the rock-bottom darkness of despair, wading through life believing there was little left to live for.

For those of us who have never been there, it’s difficult to comprehend the mental state someone has to encompass to kill themselves. For those who have, it’s surprising more people do not end up in the headlines.

Spade and Bourdain may have had normal family lives growing up — and plenty of people with mental illness do. However, a good number of those who attempt suicide are likely survivors of childhood trauma — of events and situations that cut so deep the brain and body are neurologically rewired to view the world as scary, hopeless, and forever repeating the nightmare of their past.

Such childhoods are being lived out by thousands of children today because of the opioid crisis. The rate at which children are sent to foster care in the United States has been increasing steadily since 2012, owing in part to this addiction epidemic. It’s doubtful that parents who become addicts are aware that they are condemning their children to a life that is more likely to result in depression and despair so powerful that they one day commit suicide. But that is exactly what they are doing.

One thing an oppressive past does to someone is distort reality. My husband was well into his late twenties and had yet to experience any real joy in his life, as he struggled simply to survive the mental stigmas that plagued him day after day.

He later told me he didn’t know — even nearly three decades into life — that people could actually be happy. He just believed life was hard — and then you died. There was no silver lining. Imagine this thought being so ingrained that, when times got tough, there would seem to be little point in continuing on. For those suicide victims who experienced extreme childhood trauma, this is often the case.

The answer here is certainly not simple, but people must be made aware of the long-term consequences of addiction and the neglect and abuse of children. Today, my husband is still statistically more likely to attempt suicide than the average person. However, he’s made incredible strides by finding redemptive faith and healing love in his life. Not everyone survives long enough to make it there.

He was 35 years old before things started to get better. Plenty of people don’t have until their thirties to figure it out before the lies of suicide capture them. If we can lower the rates of childhood trauma, we can lower the rates of suicide.

People are looking for reasons behind why their loved ones — or even their idolized ones — end their lives. For many, it is mental illness. For others, it is the inability to deal with pasts so painful that they dictate present life. It’s important that those trying to heal from such traumatic pasts — feeling like they may never be free — know that there are people who have come out on the other side.

If we can lower the rates of childhood trauma, we can lower the rates of suicide.

This is why so many people have come out publicly with their “suicidal stories” in the past week. They want people in their lives to know that it’s possible to feel that life is so dark it isn’t worth living — but that it’s also possible to rise up out of that place and shudder to think that they almost gave up.

In his thirties, my husband came alive for the first time. He saw a light and a hope in life that had been so dim for three decades that he didn’t believe it actually existed. But he found it, despite those once-overwhelming emotions of pain and darkness.

Statistical predictions may surround my husband’s life story, but he will not become one of them. You don’t have to become one either.

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